Ask HTG: Accessing USB in Virtual Machines, Automatically Straighten Scanned Photos, and Product Key Recovery

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By Jason Fitzpatrick on October 17th, 2011


Once a week we share some of the reader questions we answer in the Ask HTG roundup; today we’re looking at accessing USB drives in Virtual Machines, how to automatically straighten and crop scanned photos, and how to recover product keys off an old computer.

Accessing USB Drives in Virtual Machines


Dear How-To Geek,

How can I use a USB drive and Microsoft Sync Toy to backup data from a Virtual Machine? By default the USB drive plugged into the host computer doesn’t appear in my Virtual Machine.


Backing Up in Boise

Dear Backing Up,

You need to set up a pass-through system for your USB drive so that the physical port and drive on the physical host is passed through to the VM. Just so we cover the bases, here’s how to do it in VMWare’s Virtual Machine, in VirtualBox, and in Microsoft’s Virtual PC.

Automatically Straighten and Crop Scanned Images


Dear How-To Geek,

First of all, very nice website. I love all the Linux coverage as I’m a new convert. To my question, I’m in the process of scanning my family’s entire photo album. I just scan as many pictures that will fit per scan to shorten the amount of time it will take.

Some of my pictures are tilted and need to be straightened. So now  I have a couple hundred scanned images of 4-6 pictures that I’ve been needing to crop and straighten manually. I know Photoshop has this ability but I’m a college student and don’t have that kind of money to be spending right now. I need a feature similar the automated crop and straighten feature found in Photoshop. Any ideas? My system is running the latest and greatest Ubuntu edition (64-bit). Thank you for any suggestions.


Scanning in Sacramento

Dear Scanning,

There are a couple ways you can approach this problem. Since you’re a student you could possibly check around and see if you can score access to a computer lap on campus with Photoshop installed. You could also pick up a copy of Photoshop Elements for under $100 with a student discount and use the Divide Scanned Photos function.

Barring that, you can do everything for free if you use GIMP on your Linux system. There is a script for GIMP called, appropriately, the Divide Scanned Images Tool. Here’s a write up of how to install and use it. The GIMP script will get the job done but some of the settings are counterintuitive. Make sure to try it out on a copy of your images and read the instructions on the tutorial carefully. Good luck!

Recovery Windows Product Keys from Damaged Computer

Dear How-To Geek,

A computer of mine recently died. The hard drive is fine, however, and I’ve been able to pull it from the machine and mount it in another computer. I’d like to pull old product keys off of it but I don’t know where to start. Any ideas?


Key Collecting in Kansas

Dear Key Collecting,

Getting it out of the old machine and into a new machine (or an appropriate HDD dock) is the hard part. What you need to do is check out our tutorial on product key recovery here. You’ll have your keys backed up in a matter of minutes.

Have a pressing tech question? Shoot us an email at and we’ll do our best to answer it.

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 10/17/11
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